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"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"

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Tuesday, 16 December 2003

Topic: Election Notes

Another dare for the readers: answer these question and discover who you really think should lead this country...

Yesterday I posted A dare for the readers: Take an online quiz and find out your "true" philosophical soul-mate! where you could access an online questionnaire. If you answered a few questions, you could find out to what extent your personal ethics were aligned with famous philosophers and philosophies.

I was fully aligned with Kant (100%), with John Stuart Mill a close second (89%), followed by Jean-Paul Sartre (87%). Okay. Fine.

Ah yes, but what does that men politically?

Today I refer you to the 2004 AMERICAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SELECTOR (Mac Friendly Version for RB, DVMD and RE) where you can click on items - selecting policies, positions and levels of importance - and see which candidate best matches your political position.

What you enter is slammed against the policy statements, position papers and public statements of the folks running for president, and the thing spits out your results, in rank order.

Here's the odd thing. On the first try, the candidates who really stood for what I thought was right, proper and good were these - in rank order of agreement with my positions.

01. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
02. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (75%)
03. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (74%)
04. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (72%)
05. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (68%)
06. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (65%)
07. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (61%)
08. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (57%)
09. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (57%)
10. Libertarian Candidate (42%)
11. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (38%)
12. Bush, President George W. - Republican (12%)
13. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (10%)

It seems that after the ideal candidate, who doesn't exist, Sharpton, Clark and Dean give me three quarters of what I want in a guy to run the country.

Reverend Sharpton? I don't think so. But this is based on his stated positions and what he has said in public. I liked him on Saturday Night Live but I don't think this tool factors in Sharpton doing his James Brown imitation. Maybe it does.

On the second try, something came up that my friend Bonnie in Boston will find amusing. It seems I really align with "Dennis the Menace." Why the change? I let it rip and decided to ask for it all. See below.

01. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
02. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (82%)
03. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (76%)
04. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (71%)
05. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (70%)
06. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (66%)
07. Libertarian Candidate (66%)
08. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (63%)
09. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (51%)
10. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (33%)
11. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (33%)
12. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (32%)
13. Bush, President George W. - Republican (30%)

Now I don't think Sharpton or Kucinich have a snowball's chance in hell of actually winning a general election, so Clark and Dean seem the guys who should get my vote. But....

Posted by Alan at 19:54 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 December 2003 19:58 PST home

Topic: Election Notes

Howard Dean's chances against Bush, as seen from the UK

Well, sometimes it's amusing to see how others see us. Here a fellow in London argues the American economy is going down the tubes, and that has dire implications for Bush, and may make Dean a possible winner. Maybe so.

I know what I heard when I had dinner with a conservative CEO last Sunday night, a man who voted for Bush, and who now feels betrayed. "This is not what I signed up for!" Those were his words. The incredible growing deficit, the twenty-seven percent increase in federal spending, the billions in farm subsidies, the dollar dropping through the floor, the steel tariff business... the list went on. Not that my friend would ever vote for Dean, but he is unhappy with Bush. So, what does that portend?

He's the take from a Brit.

Bush is still in a real hole
The US president is facing a financial nightmare of his own making, and needs all the good news he can get
Albert Scardino, The Guardian (UK), Tuesday December 16, 2003

Scardino sets the stage this way:
... The dollar has already lost a third of its value against the euro. The decline could accelerate as the world loses confidence in the ability of the US to repay its massive and increasing debts. As a result, the dollars being paid to oil suppliers and to Chinese manufacturers are also declining in value. Might China revalue its currency? Could the oil industry shift to a euro-based pricing system? Either could send American inflation soaring, driving up interest rates. The bond and stock markets would crash. So would house prices and consumer spending.
Well, that is a worst care scenario.

The question is how things got to this pass. Here Scardino isn't very nice:
Bush has engaged in a campaign of voter bribery in the past two years unrivalled in US history. The tax cuts came first, a gift to corporate and upper-income America that will hobble the country for a generation or more. And there were breathtaking increases in farm subsidies to buy loyalty in the heartland.

Illegal tariffs in 2002 on steel imports bought support from coal miners, railway workers and steel unions in the critical states of Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Proposals last month for duties on Chinese textiles were intended to purchase the loyalty of low-wage workers in Georgia and the Carolinas - even if they offended a nation emerging as one of America's biggest bankers.

The tax cuts have created runaway deficits. The farm subsidies contributed to the collapse of the Cancun trade talks. Bush had to abandon the steel tariffs last week in the face of threats of counter-measures from the EU.
Heck, you'd think things were out of control! Well, really, you might.

But we captured Saddam Hussein, didn't we. That will, if this week's buzz is correct, get Bush reelected in a landslide. The critics of the war, and even more so, the actual opponents of the war, like Dean, have had their legs cut out from under them. They have no real issue now.

But it always is the economy that drives the election, or so some say.

Scardino comments on Dean:
... with a commitment to bringing the troops home by June, an anti-war campaign may seem a weak platform. And a proportional voting system that will leave the winner with only a handful of the delegates needed to win the nomination at the party convention in July means that, as a group, Dean's opponents will collect more votes.

When it comes to the southern states in early February, Dean faces more serious problems. More than a third of southern Democratic primary voters are black. Dean saw them off when he said he wanted to be the candidate of the boys with a confederate flag emblem on their pick-up trucks.

He is no more tutored in national and international economics than in southern racial politics. A gaffe or two here could help reignite the campaign of Richard Gephardt, the candidate with the broadest experience of public life, or John Kerry, an astute Washington insider.

Bush campaigners were already at work over the weekend trying to imply that Saddam's arrest makes Bush a shoo-in, a line they promoted in the Florida recounts three years ago. This time, their biggest opponent may be the bond markets, not the Democrats. The odds look a long way short of a sure thing.
But how can Scardino tell from way over there in the UK, of all places?

Will Bush chanting "I got Saddam! I got Saddam! I got Saddam!" still enchant my Republican friends next autumn? I don't know. That's a long way off.

Posted by Alan at 14:03 PST | Post Comment | Permalink

Topic: Iraq

Now will everything will be all better? Reactions to the capture of the big guy...

It all comes down to individuals? So what are we to make of the personalization of foreign policy as Richard Cohen discusses it here? The question he's discussing is the capture of Saddam Hussein of course, and what that really changes on the ground in Iraq.

When Decapitation Isn't Fatal
Richard Cohen, The Washington Post, Tuesday, December 16, 2003; Page A37
... The attempt to take out Hussein evinced a certain kind of thinking, the personalization of foreign policy that held that without him, Iraq would become malleable. It's true, of course, that there were good military reasons to try to decapitate the regime by killing the nation's leader, but we now know that even without him - even with him in hiding and isolated - a resistance movement materialized. From all accounts, we still do not know who these fighters are.
Really? I think the official line is otherwise. But I like this analysis from Cohen:
On occasion the administration has said they are Arab or Islamic terrorists from outside Iraq. At other times we have been told they are bitter-end Baathists. Sometimes we are told they are paid common criminals - although common criminals are not likely to conduct suicide missions.

There's probably some truth to all these theories - and to one hardly mentioned at all. Some of the insurgents may well be Iraqi nationalists who resent the U.S. presence and are willing to fight it. Nationalism in Iraq is often discounted, but it exists - fostered first by Ottoman and then British occupations and, more recently, by the wars of Saddam Hussein, which were followed by United Nations sanctions. Hussein was to blame for much of this, but that does not mean that some - maybe many - Iraqis did not come to resent the United States even while hating their own leader. The Arab sense of grievance is hard to overstate.
So we don't get to say "mission accomplished" this time? The president was careful not to say that Sunday. Here's Cohen's take:
At least twice now, Americans have celebrated the end of the war in Iraq - once last April when the statute of Hussein was toppled in Baghdad's Firdaus Square and again the next month when Bush himself declared major combat operations over. "Mission Accomplished," the banner on the USS Abraham Lincoln proclaimed. Since then, more than 300 Americans have died in Iraq.

Bush clearly learned from that mistake. In his speech to the nation on Sunday, he specifically warned that "the capture of Saddam Hussein does not mean the end of violence in Iraq." On the USS Abraham Lincoln, he had proclaimed the war all but over and linked it repeatedly with Sept. 11 and al Qaeda. He mentioned Roosevelt and Truman, Normandy and Iwo Jima. This time, Bush was restrained. In fact, Hussein may turn out to be like weapons of mass destruction - much less there than anyone thought.

The good news is that we got the bastard - and who cannot cheer? But the bad news - even as I continue to believe the United States will prevail - is that we found him, craven, disheveled and, fittingly, in a hole. Because of the mistakes of the Bush administration, that's where we are too.
And what kind of hole is that? The locals resent us and want their country back sooner than makes us comfortable?

But maybe all the attacks on our guys will stop now, or taper off.

That will happen if personalization of foreign policy is appropriate. Cut off the head and the snake dies. One must accept the "snake" metaphor to believe the analogy is proper. Metaphors can make the complex a bit more understandable. Reducing political and diplomatic conflict to one personality (Hussein) versus another (Bush) can also make the complex a bit more understandable. But one always risks oversimplification.

Some folks like simplification. Some folks don't. See The hedgehogs will face off against the foxes... for which way you tend to think.

Posted by Alan at 13:15 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Tuesday, 16 December 2003 13:29 PST home

Monday, 15 December 2003

Topic: The Culture

A dare for the readers: Take an online quiz and find out your "true" philosophical soul-mate!

Here is something beyond curious.


The hook:

These questions reflect the dilemmas that have captured the attention of history's most significant ethical philosophers. Answer the questions as best you can. When you're finished answering the questions, press "Select Philosophy" to generate your customized match of ethical philosophers/philosophies. The list orders the philosophers/philosophies according to their compatibility with your expressed opinions on ethics. Click on a philosopher/philosophy to see a summary and links. We hope you enjoy this selector and we encourage your further philosophical explorations. - Tara Anderson

Two posts below was an item on capital punishment, and how justice may not be the same as vengeance and those sorts of things - you know, morality and ethics and stuff like that.

Why did I say what I said? Into which "school" of philosophy do I fall? I took this quiz and here are the folks with whom I align.

And I always thought I was a cynic!

1. Kant (100%)
2. John Stuart Mill (89%)
3. Jean-Paul Sartre (87%)
4. Jeremy Bentham (73%)
5. Stoics (63%)
6. Ayn Rand (62%)
7. Aquinas (59%)
8. Prescriptivism (56%)
9. Epicureans (55%)
10. Aristotle (55%)
11. Spinoza (51%)
12. David Hume (46%)
13. Nietzsche (38%)
14. Plato (35%)
15. St. Augustine (32%)
16. Nel Noddings (30%)
17. Ockham (28%)
18. Thomas Hobbes (25%)
19. Cynics (25%)

And Tara gives me these summaries, which I find a bit silly.

From the top down:

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
... We can make a priori judgments; the negation of such judgments would a logical absurdity because a priori knowledge is known without sensory data. (huh?)
... We combine a priori and a posteriori knowledge
... We have freedom
... God is not essential for his moral argumentation
... The objective facts about the human knowledge leads to Kant's morality
... We must act ought of a sense of duty in order to be moral
... Moral action does not come out of following inclinations
... Moral standards must be followed without qualification
... We must always act so that the means of our actions could be a universal law
... We must always treat people as ends not means

Mill, John Stuart (1806-1873)
... The Utilitarian principle is correct when the quality of pleasures is accounted for
... Liberty is the most important pleasure

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980)
... When we choose something, we affirm the value of our choice because we have chosen it above other choices
... When we choose something for ourselves, we should choose it for all people.
... We must be consistent in our interpretations of moral situations regardless of whom the agent is.
... Logic cannot help us specific situations
... Making conscious moral choices is more significant than consistently following moral guidelines
... The conflict between the interests of two people is in the end, irresolvable

And at the bottom of my list?

... All the fruits of civilization are worthless
... Salvation is found in a rejection of society and a return to simple ascetic living
... Virtue consists in finding salvation in oneself


Take the quiz and see where you fit in with the big guns of Western philosophy.

And you might want to check out a little Austrian humor from Universit?t Innsbruck where you'll find A Non-Philosopher's Guide to Philosophical Terms

a posteriori:
(Non-Philosopher) things you think of when you're sitting down
(Philosopher) knowledge which is the result of and is based upon experience of some kind

a priori:
(Non-Philosopher) something you've thought of to head your "things to do" list
(Philosopher) things you think of when you're sitting down, in an armchair, usually with a snifter of brandy in one hand

(Non-Philosopher) almost precisely cubical and made of concrete, probably a multi-story car park
(Philosopher) one who believes that the morally right action is the one with the best consequences, so far as the distribution of happiness is concerned; a creature generally believed to be endowed with the propensity to ignore their own drowning children in order to push buttons which will cause mild sexual gratification in a warehouse full of rabbits

... and so on and so forth

Posted by Alan at 19:59 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 15 December 2003 20:18 PST home

Topic: Oddities

Be there! Don't miss the Flaming Sideburns tomorrow night!

In Strasbourg: Flaming Sideburns
High-octane Finnish rock and roll band fronted by an Argentinean singer who sings in both English and Spanish.

December 16 - La Laiterie, 13 rue Hohwald
67000 Strasbourg Tel: 03 88 23 72 37

In Arles: Dr Feelgood
Pile-driving, 1970s rhythm and blues band from Essex heads south for the winter.

December 20 - Cargo de Nuit, 7 Ave Sadi Carnot
13200 Arles Tel: 04 90 49 55 99


Yep, Finnish rock and roll by an Argentinean channeling Elvis....

No, I did NOT make this up.

Posted by Alan at 11:56 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Monday, 15 December 2003 18:08 PST home

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